Staff may still get paid but not suppliers of pub chain
JD Wetherspoon has told its suppliers it will not pay them until pubs reopen after the coronavirus lockdown, but promised that staff will get their wages beyond tomorrow provided the government agrees a reimbursement scheme quickly enough.
With anger growing over its behaviour during the crisis, Wetherspoon confirmed that it had told firms supplying food, drinks and other services that they would not be paid until its 874 pubs were allowed to reopen.
Tim Martin, the company’s founder and chairman, had already told its 43,000 staff that the chain could not afford to pay them after tomorrow.
The company now says staff will get paid on 3 April, as long as the government backs its interpretation of the reimbursement scheme set out by the chancellor, Rishi Sunak.
The government would also have to deliver on its “furlough” scheme, pledged to businesses struggling to pay wages during the lockdown, before the end of April.
Under the scheme, the state will reimburse companies for 80% of each staff member’s salary, up to a cap of £2,500 a month.
Wetherspoon has said it will top up the wages of higher-paid employees whose wages would exceed that cap. It would not offer holiday pay and said that while continuing parental or adoption leave would continue as usual, the position of staff about to go on leave was “not clear”.
Hours worked by Wetherspoon staff for other businesses in the meantime were “likely” to be deducted from their furlough pay, it said.
The staff pay proposal surfaced as Wetherspoon came under fire for telling suppliers that they would not be paid until its pubs reopened.
It told suppliers: “We are asking for a moratorium on payments, until the pubs reopen, at which point we intend to clear outstanding payments, within a short timeframe.”
The email, first published by the sustainability website Footprint, continued: “We understand that this puts significant pressure on our suppliers, but we are kindly asking for your assistance during this very difficult period.
The law allows suppliers to charge 8% statutory interest, on top of the Bank of England base rate, on late payments.
Sean Upson, a partner at Stewarts law firm, said the company may seek to use a “force majeure” clause to free itself of some contractual obligations.
But he added: “Force majeure is not a ‘get out of jail free’ card. There is no legal precedent for using it in this way.”
A spokesperson for Wetherspoon confirmed the letter to suppliers was genuine. The Guardian has asked Martin for comment.